Vice President-elect Kamala Harris often declared during the campaign that “We believe in science.” And judging by the tendency of the college-educated, especially among the sophisticates living on the coasts, to agree with Harris’s positions on everything from climate change to proper precautions amid COVID-19, belief in “science” seems to many a mark of knowledge and wisdom. But is it?

The modern belief in “science” increasingly appears to be a religion wherein the words of certain recognized experts are received with the reverence once reserved for the Pope. A college diploma almost serves as a permission slip to suspend one’s own judgment and reason in favor of taking the word of certain experts to heart, especially if they work in government, certain universities, or gain media credence. 

This tendency to turn experts and the media into high priests of all knowledge is nothing new. In 1986, 60 Minutes ran a story about a phenomenon people experienced in cars with automatic transmissions called “unintended acceleration.” This occurred when someone put their car into gear (forward or reverse) and despite pressing the brake pedal with all their might, the car accelerated out of control. 

The 60 Minutes story focused on the Audi 5000, a car model seemingly susceptible to unintended acceleration. Tragically, the victims included a young, well-to-do mother and her little boy, who was pinned to the back wall of a garage and killed with mom at the wheel of her Audi. Ed Bradley stressed in the report that the Audi victims were good drivers who were sophisticated. They had to be good drivers. They were college-educated, and high earners. The fault had to be with the car. And no doubt, after the report, college-educated sophisticates throughout the country, who knew the best wines and read the trendiest authors, entered their Audi vehicles in fear; after all, 60 Minutes had spoken. Audi sales plummeted.

Problem is, any shade-tree mechanic with a sixth-grade education using a come-along and a big tree branch to pull an engine in the back woods of Kentucky could have told 60 Minutes, with 100 percent accuracy, that no car at the time could have possibly behaved as described. The acceleration was certainly unintended, but anyone with a modicum of automotive knowledge immediately knew what was happening. Victims were pushing the accelerator by mistake. This could be said with certainty because there was absolutely no mechanical possibility that a car could spontaneously disengage its brakes and fully engage the accelerator while the brake pedal was being pushed. Brake systems and accelerator systems were independent of each other, and still are in most cars today (computer-controlled parking and braking systems make this less certain). 

As it turns out, 60 Minutes rigged a demonstration that was part of their report, and government investigators confirmed the fault was with the drivers. What’s more, except for accelerator pedals sticking on ill-fitting floor mats, roughly the same phenomenon was found to be driver error in Toyota vehicles decades later.

The Audi 5000 unintended acceleration episode teaches several lessons. First, generally-accepted authorities listened to by highly-educated sophisticates can be very wrong, even dishonest. Second, the highly educated and sophisticated don’t know much about the things they use on a daily basis. Third, just because you can afford the best of a mechanical thing doesn’t mean you’re expert at using it. And finally, the highly educated and sophisticated can be duped when they have been conditioned to automatically accept the word of a person or organization they consider authoritative. This is true when it comes to 60 minutes, and it’s true when it comes to Anthony Fauci, the heads of the CDC and the WHO, and CNN/NBC/CBS/ABC.

This partly explains why many scoff at masks and social distancing for COVID-19. Shade-tree mechanics skeptical of cars being faulted for unintended acceleration knew how cars worked. They didn’t need experiments and the word of authorities to form an accurate judgment. Similarly, anybody who wears glasses knows surgical and cloth masks leak like sieves, because glasses often fog while exhaling and clear while inhaling. Depending on the material, cloth masks can easily leak more air than passes through the mask. This isn’t to say these masks capture nothing; it is to say, however, that an infected person walking around with one of these masks on leaves behind a cloud of unfiltered, infected air. What’s more, an uninfected person who is vulnerable walking around under a false sense of security while wearing one of these masks can very easily breathe in that unfiltered, infected air. 

Mechanical knowledge makes it obvious most masks are basically ineffective and provide a false sense of security that’s dangerous for the vulnerable. Experiments and statistical studies are not necessary to know this. Someone purposely sneezing with and without masks and comparing the spray clouds in a video proves nothing since most are not sneezing behind their masks. And when it comes to real-world mask effectiveness in flu pandemics, two different studies show infection rates statistically don’t vary between regions with high mask usage and regions without.

Now there is a mask, better termed a respirator, that is effective. An N95 respirator, properly sealed tightly to the face so that exhales do not break the seal, can filter in both directions. Nursing home personnel working where many of the patients cannot wear masks should, and probably are, wearing these respirators, both to protect themselves from being bombarded by virus, and to protect their patients. Anyone who is particularly vulnerable or concerned about contracting the virus can very effectively protect themselves from the maskless by wearing a tightly sealed N95 respirator, even without social distancing.

Lest anyone think this is advocating an N95 respirator mandate, think again. First, for every American to wear a fresh device every day, well over a billion would be consumed each year. Just think of the space in landfills. It would also be a waste of resources since most are in less danger from COVID-19 than from the annual flu. Second, a facial seal is absolutely necessary for an N95 respirator to be effective. This would require every person who can grow facial hair to shave clean, except for mustaches, every day. How many mask-wearing Hollywood stubble-face types are likely to go for that?

Kamala Harris and President-elect Biden have threatened a nationwide mask mandate, having thoroughly bought the “expert” line, despite the fact that many medical scientists disagree. Given his age, it is understandable that Biden would, and should, protect himself, but he hasn’t been wearing N95 respirators. Neither he nor Harris actually follow science. They’re just bowing to the secular religion of the political left: experts over common sense; bureaucrats over individual judgment. Their faith in the high priests of “science” in the current pandemic is misplaced, making things worse instead of better. And given that science is actually about skepticism and questioning, their absolute certainty begs the question of whether they, and those who agree with them, actually believe in science at all.

The science of reality says the truly vulnerable and the particularly paranoid can protect themselves with N95 respirators. They and the rest of us are fooling ourselves with mask wearing and social distancing. Let’s stop creating the false sense of security that surgical mask mandates and drive-in political rallies have helped to perpetrate. Let’s do what it takes to protect the vulnerable and allow freedom for the rest of us to develop herd immunity. And of course, let’s hope for the best when it comes to a vaccine.

Byron Schlomach has a Ph.D. in Economics, is an avid DIYer who maintains his 1965 motorhome without the help of professional mechanics, and is director of the 1889 Institute. He can be reached at [email protected]. 

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.